It seems largely irrelevant to point out that LANDLINE is Rainbow Rowell's second "adult" novel (after ATTACHMENTS), since many of the people I know who have read and loved her "young adult" books (FANGIRL and ELEANOR & PARK) have been adults. The blurred distinctions between young adult and adult literature is a topic better discussed elsewhere, but suffice it to say that with LANDLINE, Rowell demonstrates once again that her writing possesses not only broad appeal but also keen insights into a vast array of human identities and emotions.
LANDLINE takes place in the week leading up to Christmas 2013. Georgie McCool's family has been planning to visit her mother-in-law in Omaha, where Georgie's young daughters hope to see snow for the first time. But Georgie, a writer for a terrible sitcom, has just been offered the chance of a lifetime --- to pitch the show that she and her writing partner have been imagining for decades --- and the potentially life-changing meeting has been scheduled for just after Christmas. There's absolutely no way Georgie can take off for the Midwest and lose this opportunity.
"Rowell demonstrates once again that her writing possesses not only broad appeal but also keen insights into a vast array of human identities and emotions."
Georgie never dreams, though, that when she expresses hesitation about the trip, her husband Neal will decide to go to Omaha anyway --- with their daughters and without his wife. Now Georgie is stuck in Los Angeles alone, left reeling by Neal's sudden departure, with nothing to keep her company but her work and her speculations about what has gone wrong in her marriage.
Workaholic Georgie, uncharacteristically, is having trouble concentrating and finds herself spending way too much time at her mother's home. When Georgie's cell phone fails to connect with Neal's, she tries reaching him using her mother's landline, calling the house phone at Neal's mother's house. Much to Georgie's surprise and confusion, the Neal who picks up the phone is not her worn-out, distant husband, but the Neal she remembered from nearly 20 years before, when they were still dating and newly in love. Stumbling upon this lifeline to her past, Georgie finds herself revisiting scenes from when she and Neal first met and wondering if she's been given a second chance --- to end the nascent relationship before it has the opportunity to go so wrong.
Despite its magical realist premise, LANDLINE addresses very real-world concerns about marriage, motherhood, and balancing the demands of work and family --- not to mention plenty of questions about fate and destiny. It confronts the same paradoxes and conundrums as most time-travel novels, but that's hardly the point here. Instead, the magical yellow phone she encounters serves as a springboard for Georgie (and, by extension, the reader) to explore the evolution of relationships and the unsettling possibility that we can wake up one day to discover that neither we nor the ones we love share the same passions, interests, desires and goals that we once did. Surprisingly, LANDLINE also manages to be quite funny and, in classic Rowell fashion, to have an ending that's happy, or at least satisfyingly happy-ish.
It remains to be seen if Rowell's younger fans will respond to this "adult" book by a favorite author, but it's pretty certain that her adult fan base will only continue to grow.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 11, 2014
- Publication Date: July 8, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press
- ISBN-10: 1250049377
- ISBN-13: 9781250049377